The puffer jacket is a winter staple for good reason. Down, or its alternatives, provide stellar lightweight insulation when the temperatures plunge, and it’s easy to layer underneath and/or above depending on how frigid it might be.
The one downside, no pun intended, is that the insulation is so efficient it may cause you to overheat, particularly when you’re engaging in winter sports. To address the issue, The North Face came up with a deceptively simple solution that proves less really can be more.
In The North Face’s L3 50/50 Hoodie, one of the offerings from its performance-driven Summit Series, 800-fill down is placed strategically and sparingly. From the outside, you may not notice anything different, but the jacket’s interior reveals down panels applied in strips with plenty of space in between. Each panel is stitched on one side only, allowing it to move with your body as you ski, snowboard, or climb. The more mobile you are while wearing the 50/50, the more likely the negative space is to give your upper body the room it needs to breathe.
I put the 50/50 puffer to the test on the slopes of Vermont on a 20-degree morning with just a dash of snow fluttering about — which is just about where my threshold resides for staying outdoors in the winter. Three hours of snowboarding earned me a few après-mountain beers, and as I stripped away my many layers, I was blown away by how little I had sweat all morning.
Warm — but not hot
Many people may be so happy to keep warm through their winter excursions that they don’t mind ascending to the point of feeling too hot. But if you’re willing to take your gear to the next level — and shoulder the price hike that comes with it — a more harmonious level of warmth can be achieved. The Summit L3 50/50 Down Hoodie retails for $475, which may seem a staggering sum, but it’s well worth the investment if you’re the season pass sort of person or someone who otherwise spends a lot of time outdoors through the colder months.
I spent the early March day decked-out in gear from The North Face’s Summit and Steep Series, from the DotKnit baselayers to the Futurelight shell jacket and bib. The full kit was in cahoots to keep me warm and dry, but it was the 50/50 puffer that I couldn’t stop thinking about.
Knowing what to take away from a design takes a more skilled eye than knowing what to add.
Inside the burnt-orange jacket (or blue, if you’re less bold), is a baffled, or pocketed, construction that’s half down and half without, giving the puffer its name. In addition to allowing your arm and torso to breathe better, the decrease in puff also gives you more room for movement along with raglan sleeves and underarm gussets. Even with a shell jacket on top, you’ve got a remarkable range of motion — and there are an abundance of other tiny details that make the 50/50 ultra functional.
Elasticized cuffs provide a better barrier for the elements at your wrist and can hike up to your forearms without losing tension in the long term. The hood is also elasticized, with a handy toggle on the rear, and bears enough room to be worn around a helmet. Wearing the 50/50, you can’t help but notice just how light it is, and packing it into an included pouch is a cinch — no doubt, cutting the down in half brings less of a cram.
Rockin’ in the city
Although The North Face’s entire Summit Series is made for proper mountain conditions, I also found the 50/50 useful for my life back in New York City. Commuting via subway or bus during the winter can be tricky as you try to manage the disparate temperatures of the street, station, and subway. The train might be comparable to where you’d set your thermostat, and certain stations are hot no matter what time of year it is — in either, you’re probably going to want to shed some layers, if only for a few minutes.
Wearing the 50/50 through such journeys of the course of several weeks proved to be less of a hassle than my more typical puffers, but it did come with a sacrifice in style. Even amid the years-long gorp trend, there’s nothing aesthetically cool about this piece. It’s a tad frumpy and plain from the exterior, and there are so many more attractive puffers on the market, including The North Face’s now-fashion-oriented Nuptse jacket.
The point of the 50/50 is purely function, and that’s all you should be concerned about if you turn to it for your winter sports and activities. Some people, of course, aren’t all that concerned about looking cool regardless of the setting — and if that’s the case, shelling out $475 might still make sense for the well-funded and less active.
Recommending a high-priced winter purchase at the end of March may seem ridiculous, but some ski resorts still won’t close until late April or even early May. These warmer days will make you appreciate the 50/50’s balance even more. Don’t forget winter sales, either, some of which are already on the way. If you can pick up this ingenious jacket at a discount ahead of next winter, that’s next-level preparation.
In whatever setting I wore it, the Summit Series 50/50 puffer kept me precisely as warm as I needed without ever getting hotter. It’s not often that you can skip a shower between the slopes and the lodge, and it’s also quite nice to avoid the cruelty of sweating in winter when you’re just trying to live out your normal life. Knowing what to take away from a design takes a more skilled eye than knowing what to add. By taking away insulation at just the right spots, The North Face shows exactly why it deserves its spot in the pantheon of outdoor outfitters.